“Ella, you are the most provoking child that ever was born. You can never let a thing alone, but must have your fingers in everything. You’ve no more idea of neatness than old Tabby; no, nor half so much. You come in from school, and bonnet goes here, and book there. It’s no use to talk to you, and one might run after you all day, and then couldn’t keep the house to rights. I declare, you’re enough to try the patience of Job!” So saying, Aunt Prudence set herself energetically to work, to put to rights the work-basket which poor Ella had most unfortunately disarranged. “I should like to know,” she continued, “what children were ever made for. I’m sure they’re nothing but bother and trouble, from week’s end to week’s end.”
Poor Ella darted up stairs to her own room, and throwing herself upon the bed, burst into a fit of passionate weeping.
“I hate Aunt Prudence! I hate her, so I do! She’s always scolding and slapping me. I wish she was dead instead of mother. O mother, mother! why, O why, did you die and leave me? I can’t be good without you. I do try to be good, but Aunt Prudence always makes me naughty. I can’t help hating her when she’s so cross. O mother, mother! come back, come back!”
Poor little Ella was an orphan; though she could remember a time when she had had a kind father and mother who loved her dearly, and tried to teach her to dowhat was right; but her father had been lost at sea, and her mother, who had never seemed well after she had heard of the loss of the vessel, had now been lying for nearly a year in the graveyard of the little town where Aunt Prudence and Ella lived. Ella was naturally a very warm-hearted, affectionate child, but careless, thoughtless and meddlesome; faults which, to Aunt Prudence, with her precise ways and strict notions of propriety and neatness, seemed most inexcusable. She really loved the desolate child who had been left to her care, but she had her own way of showing it. She was careful to provide the little girl with all that she considered necessary for her comfort, and, as she said, took a great deal of pains to teach her habits of neatness and order; but Ella, even more than most children, needed “line upon line, and precept upon precept,” and her aunt’s patience was apt to be soon exhausted. Ella’s motherhad always taken a great deal of pains to correct her faults, but she was very patient; always talked with her about the folly and wickedness of her behaviour, and tried to make her see the reasonableness of her requirements; and when she punished her, she did it in such a way as to convince the child that it was done for her good, and not because her mother was in a passion. But now, when Ella tore her frock, meddled with what did not belong to her, or what she had been told not to touch, left her things lying about the room, or did anything else that was naughty, Aunt Prudence would scold her in loud, angry tones, calling her “the most provoking, troublesome child that ever was born,” or perhaps box her ears, and send her out of the room. When her mother punished her, Ella had always felt sorry for her faults, and determined to try to do better, but Aunt Prudence’s angry, impatient way was apt torouse her naturally quick temper, and sometimes she flew into a passion, which only served to convince her aunt that she really was a very wicked child.
Then when Ella, her passion over, would come full of penitence to her aunt’s side, to put her arms round her neck, as she used to do to her mother, and say how sorry she was, aunt Prudence would push her from her, saying, “Go away, Ella, I don’t want such a wicked little girl near me. You’re the most ungrateful child that ever I saw. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have a roof to cover your head, nor a bite of victuals to put in your mouth, nor a rag to your back; for your father didn’t leave you a dollar, and yet whenever I try to do my duty, and make a good girl of you, you fly into a most dreadful passion. No, just go away out of my sight; I don’t want any kisses from such a wicked child!”
Sometimes such treatment would cause asecond fit of rage, and sometimes it sent her to her mother’s grave, to throw herself upon it and weep as though her heart would break.
We left Ella, this afternoon, crying by herself in her own little room. At first they were all angry tears; but, though a quick-tempered child, her passion never lasted very long. She had been accustomed to go to her mother with all her little troubles, and very bitterly did she feel the loss of that dear friend, when in need of sympathy and kindness. Her present trouble made her long for her mother, and then as her angry feelings subsided, she began to think of that mother’s reproofs and instructions. How often had she warned her of the great wickedness of indulging her temper, and entreated her to try to govern it! How often she had talked to her of the kindness of her aunt in taking her, a poor, friendless, penniless child into her house,and providing for her, and of the duty of obeying and trying to please her! Ella could not feel that her aunt was very kind, for she was always scolding and punishing her, but still her conscience told her she had done very wrong, and that she ought to obey and love her aunt, and as she thought of all this, she wept tears of real penitence, and made many resolutions to behave better in future.
“I will tell aunt Prudence I am sorry, and will try never to be so naughty again; just as I used to tell mamma, my own dear mamma,” said she to herself.
“Ella!” called out the shrill, sharp voice of her aunt from the foot of the stairs, “Ella, come down here this minute, and get your supper. What in the world are you staying up there all this time in the cold for? To catch a cold, and give me the trouble of nursing you through a spell of sickness, I suppose.”
Ella rose and went down into the dining room with the full intention of acknowledging her faults, and asking forgiveness; but aunt Prudence looked so cold and stern, that when she tried to speak, the words seemed to stick in her throat. The meal passed off in almost total silence, and Ella was glad when it was over. Her aunt spoke to her but once, and then it was to scold her for spilling her tea.
Ella cried herself to sleep that night thinking of her mother, and her first thought, on waking next morning, was that she was going to be very good all day, and not make aunt Prudence scold her once. But alas, poor child! she forgot to pray for help to keep her good resolutions. It was late when she waked, and she dressed in great haste lest she should not be ready for breakfast, for which her aunt would certainly have punished her. She said her prayers, it is true, for she had been too welltaught to think of omitting them altogether, but she hurried through them with very little thought of what she was saying, so that she really did not pray at all, for “God is a spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit, and in truth,” and he will not hear nor answer the prayer which comes from the lips only.
Children, if you wish to be kept from sin, to be enabled to perform the duties of the day in a proper manner, never dare to begin it without sincere prayer to God for his assistance; and Oh! wherever you are, at home, at school, in the street, at your studies, or at your play, remember that the eye of God is upon you, that he notices all your words and actions, and that you will have to give an account to him for all that you do and say, and for the manner inwhich you perform every duty.
Breakfast over, Ella prepared for school. Taking her satchel of books, and her dinnerbasket, — for the school was at some distance, and she usually carried her dinner in cold weather, — and bidding her aunt good morning, she set off.
It was the district school which Ella attended, and it was usually taught by a man in the winter and a lady in the summer. Mr. Burton was the name of the present teacher. He was not remarkable for patience, and was sometimes very severe. The school was nearly a quarter of a mile from Ella’s home. She walked along briskly enough, until she had gone rather more than half way, but then having reached a pond where the children of the village were in the habit of skating and sliding in their play-hours, she said to herself, “It was only half-past eight when I started; I’m sure I might take time to slide a little while. To be sure Mr. Burton says we must never stop to play by the way, but then I shall only stay a very few minutes, and ifI get to school in time, it won’t make any difference; so I’ll just lay my books and my dinner down on this snow bank, and have a real good slide all by myself.”